Louisiana is the latest state to try legislating protectionism for the food industry. On May 30, two bills being pushed by Senate Agriculture Chairman Francis Thompson moved ahead in the lawmaking process.
SB39 prohibits the mislabeling of milk products and SB152 addresses truth in labeling for agricultural products. Both bills represent efforts by the Louisiana legislature to prevent marketers of alternative foods such as almond “milk,” cauliflower “rice” and vegetable-based “meat” patties from labeling them in ways that could mislead shoppers.
According to the LSU Manship School News Service, Thompson and conventional agricultural groups backed the bills in hopes of protecting Louisiana growers and giving consumers a choice. While both bills have bipartisan support, opposition has come from plant-based food companies arguing that the proposed regulations are a violation of First Amendment rights. David Jacobs of The Center Square reported that one legislator, Rep. Julie Emerson, was concerned that the bills would increase the risk of lawsuits. The state of Missouri, for example, is currently being sued over similar legislation.
What the bills aim to do
Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture Mike Strain told the LSU Manship School News Service that the goal of the legislation was to assure that “what is on the label has to be what is in the product,” so that consumers would know what they’re eating.
The milk labeling bill, in particular, would restrict the definition of milk, defining it as “milk of hooved mammals.” Essentially, this would prohibit manufacturers from selling oat milk, almond milk and coconut milk as dairy products. SB152, the agricultural products bill, is designed to bolster the state’s struggling rice, meat, sugar and seafood producers, making it illegal for food manufacturers to market products such as cauliflower rice that are made from vegetables rather than rice, which farmers view as a grain, a product category all its own.
How the legislation will impact the marketplace
Proponents of the measures say manufacturers, not local retailers, would be the ones most affected by the initiative.
According to the AP newswire, the milk legislation as currently worded would be enforced only if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration adopted similar standards nationally. The other bill, however, could be enforced when it becomes law, giving the state’s agriculture commissioner the authority to impose civil penalties up to $500 per violation. As the LSU Manship School News Service reported, one of the bills’ co-sponsors, Rep. John Stefanski, said the liability would be borne by the manufacturer responsible for the product label.
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